[Afghan News] June 30, 2012 - 07-05-2012, 04:21 AM
Wall Street Journal By NATHAN HODGE June 29, 2012
KABUL - The Afghan government's plan to phase out private security firms has "increased the uncertainty over security" for U.S.-funded aid projects and increased the cost of guarding them, an audit released Friday by a U.S. government watchdog agency said.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, said security costs for more than a dozen major development projects could increase by over $55 million over one year as contractors switch to the Afghan Public Protection Force, a state-owned security force that is replacing private firms.
"Security costs are likely to increase and could be substantial," the report states.
The Sigar was created in 2008 to oversee the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. It conducts both audits and criminal investigations.
The audit describes an uneasy transition, as some new Afghan guards show up with inadequate uniforms and equipment, submit invoices for projected hours instead of actual work, and demand additional benefits beyond those outlined in their contracts.
The audit, for instance, quotes a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor as saying officers in the Afghan force demanded trips to the Afghan capital to visit family, plus a car and fuel, items not agreed to in their contract.
The transition from private to state-run security has also driven up costs, the audit says. In some cases, the audit states, labor costs could rise by as much as 200% as contractors bring in expatriate security consultants to supervise the transition, it says. The cost of hiring Afghan guards could increase by 46%, the report adds.
U.S. contractors in Afghanistan rely on private security for a range of services, from night watchmen and armed guards at housing compounds to more high-end escorts who protect convoys or provide bodyguard services to VIPs.
The costs of security in war-torn Afghanistan are high. According to the audit, at least $300 million of the $2.9 billion spent on some of USAID's largest projects in 2009 to 2011 went directly to security.
A USAID official said the agency had been closely monitoring the creation of the new force and hadn't witnessed a sharp cost increases in the first months of transition. "Security costs have not markedly increased, but we continue to monitor the cost and level of security services provided by the APPF," the official said.
Hired guns have been deeply unpopular in Afghanistan because of perceptions that they operate with impunity. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after pledging to disband the private security companies, issued a decree in March 2011 that set a timeline for the dissolution of most of the firms.
While the U.S. initially expressed reservations about the plan to disband the firms, U.S. advisers are now helping assist in the creation of the new force.
As the audit suggests, the transition to state-provided security has been anything but smooth. The Afghan government has extended the licenses of some private security firms because of delays in the transition. Two top officials at the Afghan Public Protection Force, the organization's deputy minister and the business director, resigned recently—doing so, according to a person familiar with the matter, because of troubles in the transition.
The force was supposed to be a one-stop shop for everything from weapons registration to vehicle licensing, but had stumbled on issues such as assuming responsibility for convoy protection, this person said. "They have not even gotten the convoy [transition] implemented, which was the issuethat resulted in the release of the deputy minister and the business director," the person said.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior, which oversees the new force, didn't immediately respond to a request to comment on the resignations and audit.
In addition to the management upheaval, the audit underscores some of the bureaucratic hurdles still faced by aid contractors and their security providers.
According to the audit, contractors reported cases in which it took as long as 24 months to clear vehicles for importation to Afghanistan. One Afghan official "attempted to charge an additional $10,000 to register the company's vehicles," according to one of the contractors quoted. The audit offers no further explanation.
The report comes ahead of a conference in Tokyo that will outline the international community's long-term commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan. The report, which underscores the potential cost of the new security arrangement, is likely to put the spotlight on the costs of reconstruction.
The Afghan Public Protection Force is "a large, brand new organization, so the challenges get in the way," said a U.S. official.
Write to Nathan Hodge at email@example.com
Two Police Killed In Afghan Bicycle Bomb Blast
June 30, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
An official in Afghanistan says two police officers have been killed in an explosion outside a bank in the city of Gardez, capital of the Paktiya Province.
Provincial government spokesman Rohullah Samoon is quoted as saying an “explosive-packed bicycle” was detonated on June 30 near a Kabul Bank branch.
He added that one police officer and two civilians were injured.
The spokesman said the target of the attack was not immediately clear, but said Taliban militants are suspected of responsibility.
Based on reporting by AP and dpa
An Umbrella for Afghan Stability
New York Times By CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN and KARL F. INDERFURTH June 29, 2012
As the date for the drawdown of NATO forces from Afghanistan approaches, an atmosphere of optimism is being created, mainly in the Western media, about the prospects of a reasonably successful transition to a stable and eventually prosperous Afghanistan.
Much is being read into the manner in which Afghan national security forces handled simultaneous Taliban attacks on several targets in Kabul in April. But those incidents, no doubt competently dealt with by the Afghan forces, should not lead to any definitive conclusions regarding their capability to face up to the insurgency after 2014.
The security forces should, and probably will, be better equipped and trained by then, but it would be prudent not to be overconfident about their ability.
While the focus is on the preparedness of the security forces, less is being heard about the other, equally important pillar of the transition process: reconciliation. One does not know who, if anyone, is talking to the Taliban.
The so-called office for the Taliban in Doha is not known to be open for business. The assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani has eroded whatever effectiveness the High Peace Council, appointed by President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban, had to conduct talks.
The Taliban laid down certain conditions before they would agree to serious talks, one of which was the transfer of five detainees from Guantánamo to Qatar or somewhere close by. The United States has not complied with the demand. The Taliban have also refined their public diplomacy over the years and can be expected to play hard or soft, as required. They have not given up on their ambition to set up an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.
It is imperative that the two tracks — getting the Afghan national security forces up to speed and political reconciliation — make significant and parallel progress before 2014. Though U.S. forces will remain in significant numbers beyond 2014, they will be there in a training capacity, and it is not clear whether they would intervene to help Afghan forces.
Even if there was good progress on the two tracks by 2014, it should not be assumed that Afghanistan would enjoy stability. Afghanistan’s troubles have been caused largely by external powers meddling in its internal affairs for their own reasons, starting with the Soviet invasion in 1979.
What Afghanistan needs is a compact with its neighbors not to interfere and intervene in one another’s internal affairs. As former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski recently said, “We have to get the states around Afghanistan, including Iran, as well as Pakistan and India, and in the background, Russia and China, to collaborate in creating an umbrella of stability for Afghanistan because if that doesn’t happen, eventually they’ll be threatened too.”
The “Heart of Asia” conference in Istanbul in November 2011 took a significant step toward this objective, issuing an unambiguous commitment of all the neighboring states not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
But the “Heart of Asia” ministerial conference held June 14 in Kabul did not reaffirm the non-interference obligation in unambiguous terms. Its statement said only that “Afghanistan commits that it will not allow any threat from its territory to be directed against any other country and expects its neighbors to do the same.”
Afghanistan’s future security requires that a mechanism be put into place to ensure that the signatories to the pledge of non-interference live up to their commitment. One possibility is to set up a United Nations observer group to keep a watch on along the borders and report violations or complaints to the Security Council.
The U.N. secretary general should start to lay the groundwork for this regional security initiative, without banking on successful progress on the other two tracks, strengthening the Afghan national security forces and political reconciliation.
He already has the mandate to do so under the declaration of the Bonn conference of December 2001, and both the Istanbul and Kabul “Heart of Asia” declarations have reaffirmed the central role of the United Nations in support of regional cooperation.
It is time to begin creating that “umbrella of stability” for Afghanistan, without further loss of precious time.
Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India’s special envoy for West Asia and is a former U.N. under secretary general. Karl F. Inderfurth served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in 1997-2001 and is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Foreign troops death toll drops in Afghanistan in June
by Farid Behbud
KABUL, June 30 (Xinhua) -- The death toll of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the counter- insurgency campaign in Afghanistan has slightly dropped in June compared with the previous month.
A total of 39 ISAF soldiers have lost their lives, including five service members who died in non-hostile incidents in June, according to iCasualties, a website tracking the casualties of NATO-led troops in the war on terror in Afghanistan.
According to the website, the fatalities of foreign forces totaled 45 in May including 29 Americans.
In January, February, March and April this year the military alliance had respectively lost 34, 24, 39 and 39 soldiers in Afghanistan.
The fatalities of the alliance have also gone down in the first six months this year compared with the same period of 2011 with 219 ISAF service members killed from Jan. 1 to June 30 against 282 in the first six months last year.
The latest deadly attack left three U.S. soldiers, two Afghan policemen and 15 Afghan civilians dead when a Taliban suicide bomber struck a joint unit of Afghan-coalition patrol in Khost city, the capital of eastern Khost province on June 20.
The deadliest assault this month claimed the lives of four French soldiers on June 9 in a Taliban suicide bombing in eastern Kapisa province.
Days earlier, two NATO soldiers were killed on June 6 when a military helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan.
Some 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF with nearly 100,000 of them Americans are currently stationed in Afghanistan to fight Taliban militants and help stabilize the war-battered nation.
The Taliban, who have been waging over a decade-long insurgency since a U.S.-led invasion ousted their regime in late 2001, launched annual spring offensive from May 3 against Afghan security forces and U.S.-led coalition troops across the country.
In 2010 and 2011, the ISAF had respectively lost 711 service members including 499 Americans and 566 service members including 418 Americans.
According to iCasualties, a total of 3,067 foreign soldiers have lost their lives so far in Afghanistan. Among them were 2,028 Americans, 419 Britons and 620 from other troops contributing countries.
Pentagon says no commitment yet on Afghan prisoner transfer
WASHINGTON, June 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday said there's no commitment yet on a reported prisoner transfer to Afghanistan to jumpstart peace talks with the Taliban.
Speaking at a Pentagon press conference, Panetta said "there are no specific commitments that have been made with regard to prisoner exchanges at this point."
But he continued to add that "any prisoner exchanges that I have to certify are going to abide by the law and require that those individuals do not return back into the battle."
U.S. media reports said earlier in the day that the Obama administration is considering sending several Taliban detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Afghanistan, in order to restart peace talks with the Taliban.
The U.S. is set to hand over security responsibility of Afghanistan to Kabul by the end of 2014, and one crucial piece of the puzzle in a post-U.S. Afghanistan is the reconciliation process there. However, the Taliban suspended secret peace talks with the United States in March. It also refuses talks with the Afghan government.
India Consortium to Submit Bids for Afghanistan Mines
Wall Street Journal By BIMAN MUKHERJI June 29, 2012
NEW DELHI - A consortium of Indian state-owned companies will submit bids for copper and gold mines in Afghanistan by the middle of July, a senior executive at one of the companies said Friday.
"We need to submit the bids now, otherwise we may just miss the bus," Shakeel Ahmed, chairman and managing director of state-run Hindustan Copper Ltd., told reporters.
The consortium was examining four mining sites and will bid for at least two copper mines, he said.
The consortium also includes Steel Authority of India Ltd., National Aluminum Co. and Mineral Exploration Corp. Mr. Ahmed said the group has short-listed two of three private companies which had shown interest in taking part in the projects.
Resource-rich Afghanistan has been scouring the globe for investors to develop its mines in an attempt to lift one of the world's poorest nations out of misery through investment.
Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines said companies from the U.S., Canada, U.K., United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Australia had also expressed interest in the projects.
As the U.S. prepares to withdraw most of its forces by the end of 2014, Afghanistan is looking for ways to gradually reduce its dependence on foreign assistance.
On Thursday, top Afghan and Indian officials and industry leaders sought to woo investors in New Delhi, trying to assuage their concerns over security and political instability in the country.
Mr. Ahmed said Friday transport of the mined ore won't be a problem as the Afghan government was constructing rail links from the sites.
Analysts say there is more to India's commercial drive in Afghanistan than a desire to seek out economic opportunities.
Promoting Indian business in Afghanistan can be seen as part of a softer push to expand its influence in the country, something the U.S. has also encouraged New Delhi to do.
India sees this largely as a way of balancing Pakistan's ambitions and the Taliban in Afghanistan. New Delhi's growing involvement in Afghanistan, particularly its training of local troops, has worried Islamabad, which sees Afghanistan as falling within its sphere of influence.
Write to Biman Mukherji at firstname.lastname@example.org
US places sanctions on two Afghanistan-Pakistan money exchanges
AFP June 30, 2012
WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday named two Afghanistan-Pakistan money changers for helping the Taliban manage and move funds, setting sanctions against both that aim to hinder their business.
The US Treasury said the two hawalas, or money exchange businesses — the Haji Khairullah Haji Sattar Money Exchange (HKHS) and the Roshan Money Exchange — “have been used by the Taliban to facilitate money transfers in support of the Taliban’s narcotics trade and terrorist operations.”
Up through last year, HKHS services were “a preferred method for Taliban leadership to transfer money to Taliban commanders in Afghanistan,” the Treasury said.
Roshan was used for money transfers by the Taliban, particularly in Helmand province, including allegedly moving hundreds of thousands of dollars last year “for the purchase of narcotics on behalf of Taliban officials.”
The Treasury listed Haji Abdul Sattar Barakzai and Haji Khairullah Barakzai, HKHS co-owners, under the sanctions for donating funds to the Taliban.
HKHS has 16 branches in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Dubai, according to the Treasury.
Roshan operates 11 branches in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated “Roslan operates..” instead of “Roshan operates..”. A correction has been made.
Troop immunity likely to be focus of U.S., Afghanistan deal
Reuters By Missy Ryan and Hamid Shalizi Fri Jun 29, 2012
KABUL - U.S. and Afghan officials are likely to tussle over legal protections for American soldiers in Afghanistan when they begin negotiations on a security agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain beyond 2014.
Afghan officials say they expect the deal with the United States to include the number of U.S. troops permitted to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014; the number of bases where troops will be located, and who will control them; what those troops can and can't do and legal immunities for those soldiers.
Talks on the security agreement, which have not begun, follow the conclusion of another bilateral deal outlining the two countries' future ties, which U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed in Kabul in May.
This time, negotiators must tackle some of the most sensitive issues that were ultimately excluded from the first deal, even as many Afghans, and Karzai himself, chafe against a foreign troop presence that has lasted more than a decade.
If such talks failed, the United States would be forced to pull out a force now numbering 90,000 by the end of 2014, when NATO nations are due to remove most troops, despite few signs that a resilient Taliban insurgency will soon die out.
Aimal Faizi, chief spokesman for Karzai, said the agreement, which is supposed to be finished by next May, would focus on the "nature, scope and obligations" of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan after 2014.
"Both sides will start talking based on these three areas," Faizi told Reuters.
It's not known how many U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan will stay behind after the end of 2014.
The remaining force could include several tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers, likely focusing on special forces operations targeting al Qaeda and other militants, advising Afghanistan's inexperienced military, and retain the ability to launch U.S. drones that target militants in neighboring Pakistan.
"The security agreement will touch upon the most contentious issues that have had times strained the relationship between the two countries - so I expect that these will take a very long time," said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.
Long-standing Afghan demands to subject foreign soldiers to local law may be the main stumbling block for negotiations.
A HARDER LINE?
Whether, and when, a U.S. soldier might be tried in a local court was perhaps the most contentious issue when the United States hammered out a similar deal in 2008 with Iraq. Ultimately, the deal allowed Iraq to try U.S. soldiers for "grave" crimes committed off-duty, and off base.
As in Iraq, foremost in the mind of Afghan negotiators will likely be past missteps or abuse by American soldiers, along with years of civilian deaths that have occurred during NATO military operations.
A series of scandals involving American soldiers this year culminated in March when a U.S. staff sergeant is alleged to have walked off his base and shot at least 16 villagers in their homes.
The soldier accused in that case, Robert Bales, was whisked out of Afghanistan and is facing military trial in the United States.
Afghans also demanded that U.S. soldiers who burned copies of the Muslim holy book on a NATO base face local trial. But U.S. officials have indicated they may face only administrative discipline within the U.S. military.
A current U.S. troop agreement with Afghanistan, which has been in force since 2003, gives U.S. military personnel protection from prosecution in Afghan courts in most cases.
Yet Karzai, who critics see as bowing to Western interests, may be keen to be seen to assert Afghan sovereignty by taking a harder line in those negotiations.
At the same time, Katulis said, "the Afghan government's negotiating stance will be more limited than what we saw in Iraq last year because the Afghan government is much more dependent on external sources of support".
There is always the possibility that Afghanistan could ultimately rebuff the U.S. bid to secure its future troop base in Afghanistan beyond 2014 if the two countries can't hammer out a deal on troop immunity, or for other reasons.
Last year, U.S. officials abandoned talks for a deal that would have allowed some U.S. soldiers to remain in Iraq beyond the expiration of the two countries' security pact.
That is seen as far less likely in Afghanistan given the country's reliance on outside military power and the threat from the Taliban.
(Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)
Armed Forces Day: With the UK troops in Afghanistan
By Caroline Wyatt Defence correspondent, BBC News, in Afghanistan 30 June 2012
As the UK marks Armed Forces Day with a parade in Plymouth and events across the country, almost 10,000 British forces are still serving in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
The men and women of 12 Mechanised Brigade are now halfway through their tour.
It is morning and already sweltering in the bazaar in the town of Nad Ali, in central Helmand, with the temperature hitting the high 40s by midday.
On a rare British patrol through the town, Private Harry Turner is thronged by curious Afghan children, asking for pens and sweets.
He is pleased to be here, and keen to prove himself with his 1 Royal Anglian comrades.
He started training in September, two days after his 18th birthday, and initially did not expect to do a full six-month tour of Helmand.
"My mum was a little bit shocked, because she thought I'd only be out here for two weeks. But my mum and dad, and family are all supportive about me being here," he says.
"I was happy to stay out here. Obviously, you get the odd day where you just want to be home because you miss your bed and you're fed up of sleeping on rough beds, but I like it." Crowded bazaarHe admits that serving in Helmand is hard work.
"But after you finish work, you can have a good laugh. I've left school and gone straight into a decent job. I know my life will be a little better because I've joined the Army, and I'm doing something," he adds.
British troops are now a rarity in the bazaar because Afghan security forces are now fully responsible for security there.
The place is crowded with men and children, and the stalls full of watermelon and tomatoes.
Some of the fertile fields here now yield more fruit and vegetables than opium, though in the deserts further north it is a different story.
A few years ago, when we walked through this same market, it was nearly empty, suspicious eyes tracking our every move.
It feels very different now. There are some hostile glances, but most are friendly and unafraid to approach.
Brigadier Doug Chalmers, the commander of Taskforce Helmand, served here in 2010, and says the changes he has seen are real.
"I've come back, and the town is now connected by blacktop road, and the market is bustling. The insurgency still exists. But it is further removed... there is much more confidence now. It's a huge change," he says.
British forces have been serving in Helmand for seven years, and they point to places like the market in Nad Ali as proof that their hard work and the many sacrifices made are finally bearing fruit.
When we talk to the shopkeepers, they now complain about the need for more solar-powered street lighting, rather than listing Taliban threats.
The need for education, rather than security, is top of their list.
Back at 1 Royal Anglians' forward operating base, Sergeant Simon Mercer is chatting to one of the Afghan soldiers he is advising.
He is on his fifth tour of Afghanistan, and he says he has been genuinely heartened by the changes he has seen.
"On my last tour, there were times you wouldn't have been able to get more than 500 metres or so out of the gate of some of the patrol bases without coming under fire. Now - within the canal zone - security has never been better here," he says. 'Trusted allies'
Sgt Mercer lives and works side by side with the Afghan Army, and says he trusts the company of Afghan soldiers he is with, despite the deaths of some British soldiers on this tour at the hands of their Afghan colleagues.
The Afghan Army way of doing things may be different, but he says they are able to operate on their own on significant operations and can resupply themselves.
"The Afghan soldiers I work with have gone from being a fledgling organisation to a really professional, well-gelled unit, and they're a pretty good bunch of people," he says.
"Nowadays, there are still pockets of fighting, but the vast majority of what we do is Afghan-led. We let them decide and design the operations and we follow up and give them the support they need.
"So instead of Isaf going out to take the fight to the enemy, it's the ANA (Afghan National Army) and Afghan police giving the security, and that's a huge change. We still provide medical help in the case of big incidents, but slowly they're taking over it by themselves," he adds.
The biggest challenge for Sgt Mercer on this tour was not bombs or bullets, but getting home when his wife went into labour nine weeks early.
The RAF flew him from his base in Nad Ali to the hospital ward in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in just 14 hours, by helicopter and several flights.
It is an achievement for which he and his family will always be grateful.
He arrived, dazed by the speed of his journey from frontline to labour ward, in time for the birth of his son Heath, before returning to Helmand to complete his tour of duty.
At the evening briefing with the Royal Anglians, there are still reports of Taliban roadside bombs and shootings.
Many British soldiers here face danger daily. But the fighting has been pushed out into the desert areas, outside the towns and villages of central Helmand.
The pace of the handover to Afghan forces is quickening, with checkpoints and patrol bases being handed over rapidly, and progress in Nad Ali scrutinised closely as a model for elsewhere.
Elsewhere in Helmand, such as Musa Qala to the north, the picture is less hopeful, while towards the south in Marjah - where US Marines have thinned out markedly - Afghan forces are still in control.
The real question is whether those forces can hold on to the gains made, even when foreign forces finish their combat mission by the end of 2014.
In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan. Three years later the pro-Soviet regime was ousted when Moscow stopped paying for its allies - a mistake today's international forces are hoping not to repeat.
Brig Chalmers experienced the days of heavy fighting on his last tour here, and believes the progress he has seen in central Helmand is sustainable.
"If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have been more cautious, but the level of confidence, the number of children going to school, and the number of people in the protected areas means that this is sustainable in the long term.
"Outside in the desert it's different - and there may be changes there, but in the protected areas people have confidence," he says.
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